For those that missed Tom Wade’s interview with Spartans’ Matchday Magazine before the FA Cup Third Round tie against Birmingham City, we have published it again below. He spoke to Matt Riggs in preview of last weekend’s game.
It was a sign of things to come.
Peter Jeffries’ penalty save away to his left was the kind of FA Cup drama Blyth Spartans would have to get used to. As if that wasn’t enough, Darlington, their opponents that day, were denied by the same post twice in the last 15 minutes.
Fast forward seven matches and three and a half months and now in the bracket of FA Cup drama are two Jarrett Rivers last minute winners, a skied penalty kick, two incredible 4-1 victories, one against Conference opposition, and a direct free-kick that will go down in Spartans folk law.
It’s been a journey that no Blyth supporter, player or member of staff will ever forget; least of all manager Tom Wade.
From the beginning, it has been a rollercoaster ride, one that Wade never expected to happen.
“The previous year we had Fylde in the First Qualifying Round, who were flying,” Wade said. “Darlington were the favourites for their league at the start of this season, so away there was probably the worst tie we could get.
“They’re a good side, so when we looked at that we weren’t optimistic. Then, obviously Peter Jeffries (right, at Darlington) got a big hand on the penalty, and they hit the post a few times too.”
Even after winning the replay back at Croft Park 3-0, Blyth’s FA Cup journey was made even more challenging after they were drawn away from home in the next three ties.
“It was made even worse for us because we had league games inbetween,” Wade explained. “I think we had 10 league and cup matches in a row away from home. We got that momentum of travelling away and we got that sort of siege mentality that you get from playing away and we relaxed a lot. The games we played were superb. Skelmersdale was possibly our best performance of the season so far.”
The 4-1 victory again league-leaders Skelmersdale United in the Second Qualifying Round was just one of Blyth’s big victories in the Cup, but mixed in with comfortable wins have been heart-stopping moments too.
Wade said: “We never make anything easy! I think that’s down to the enthusiasm and youth who want to score all the time. Sometimes we keep on bombing on when we just want them to settle down a bit but you just can’t pull them back.
“They’re desperate to play and to score goals and they can be like kids in the school ground – they just keep on going.”
Spartans’ recent 7-1 victory away at Grantham Town (below, against Grantham earlier this season) was a sign of this willingness to attack and score goals. When many believed the club’s Cup run would harm and take focus from the league form, Wade was always confident it would in fact enhance their league positioning.
“It’s been a brilliant distraction [the Cup run] and has helped our momentum,” the 56-year-old said. “We have played well all season. Yes, we’ve lost a few silly games, like Ashton United and Buxton at home but we know it wasn’t as bad as what was made out.
“It hasn’t been a bad season. We’ve lost a few games but we have competed in every single one of them which is all we can ask and we knew our league form would change.”
Those “kids in the school ground” have been huge in competing in every game, Wade believes.
“The drive we have from the youth in our side is key,” he continued. “That comes from experienced players too, but the whole club has got drive about it.
“From the management to the backroom staff, we have a lot of enthusiasm. The players are massively driven. They just love playing for the shirt. When they get momentum going, they’re unstoppable at times.”
And one of those youngsters, driven by success of previous rounds, turned out to be the hero at Victoria Park last month. Jarrett Rivers provided one of the best nights Spartans supporters have ever had, including manager Wade.
“Oh, it was absolutely incredible. My best day in football. I thought the whole occasion was great. I had BBC cameras in my house at 7:30 in the morning. They camped out in the house for six or seven hours. It was the occasion – it just felt like the FA Cup. It had that special feel about it.
“In the old days, the FA Cup used to be an all-day thing. People would do things at work, have haircuts for it, follow the team buses around, and it was exactly like that [at Hartlepool]. It was like when I was a young lad. It was a fantastic day and the game was absolutely brilliant.”
Spartans supporters will talk about this FA Cup run for years to come, but while it lasts, Wade is keen to stay focused on the present and future before he looks back too much. Birmingham are up next this afternoon for Blyth, and despite their five-league superiority, Wade remains quietly confident.
He said: “Oh yeah, we can win it. There’s got to be a lot of things that happen for us to win it, but we can. They have got to come here and not play that well and we’ve got to play better than we have done in our lives. The crowd’s got to get behind us and we have to make this a fortress which we have been doing.
“It’ll be a cold day and pretty hostile [inside Croft Park]. There is a chance, a slim one, but a chance on the day, that if we play well, we will win. In fact, we will play well – I’m sure we’ll play well. I think it will be a good game.”
Despite the challenge that Gary Rowett’s (below) side bring to Croft Park, Wade (right) will do his homework on Birmingham and hopes to get some inside knowledge on the Midlanders.
“I know Lee Clark pretty well,” Wade said. “And also Dan Burn, who was on loan there last season. Matty [Wade] is best mates with Dan, so I’ll have a chat with him. Gary Rowett’s obviously done a fantastic job since he got there. He’s come from Burton Albion and has turned the team around, so great credit to him.
“They were heading in the wrong direction, but he’s clearly got them fighting for each other so it should be a very exciting game.”
It’s sure to be thrilling day today at Croft Park, whatever happens, and you wouldn’t bet against there being late drama involved once again. After all, this is the FA Cup.